With a new online format, the center’s free services have expanded statewide, according to co-founder Molly Perdue.
PROVINCETOWN — When resident Marian Roth’s mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and she brought her to live at a senior care center nearby, Roth said she didn’t know how to deal with the news of the diagnosis.
At the time, she spoke with Molly Perdue, her neighbor and co-founder of Alzheimer’s Family Support Center of Cape Cod, who pointed her to the support groups offered by the center.
“They kind of, sort of, saved my life,” Roth said.
Roth’s mother died in 2017, but she’s been on the board of the support center since it became a registered nonprofit in 2014. The center, based in Brewster, was founded by Perdue and Melanie Braverman in Provincetown.
Going to a support group, which was in Eastham at the time, and speaking to Perdue helped her improve her relationship with her mom tremendously, Roth said. She learned to live in her mom’s reality, for example, and that helped reduce her mom’s anxiety in situations, she said.
“They can really take caregivers from a traumatic, life-sucking experience to a really positive and empowering experience,” Roth said. “And if that’s all they did, that would be enough.”
This fall the support center is hosting its first virtual Walk & Give in lieu of their usual autumn fundraising walk in Provincetown, due to the COVID-19 threat. The idea is to give $5 to the center and take a walk on your own, and invite five other people to do the same. The goal of the fundraiser is to raise $100,000. As of Tuesday, the center had raised about $10,500, according to the center’s website.
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Before COVID-19 emerged on Cape Cod, the center was providing services in every town in Barnstable County with support groups, programs and more. In total, they ran 60 groups per month from Provincetown to Falmouth, according to the center.
When the coronavirus shutdown happened in March, though, Perdue said she realized the center’s clients — the family members and caregivers — were not prepared to receive services remotely. Luckily, the center had gotten started as a home-based idea, so they were able to “work” from home while still being in the office.
“What people needed was information so we just started connecting this virtual world pretty early,” Perdue said.
Perdue and Braverman, with the help of one other person, opened their phone lines seven days a week to help clients navigate all of the challenges that COVID-19 brought — from finding contingency plans if a caregiver fell sick to literally dropping off toilet paper on doorsteps.
“What happens when you’re a small, community-based nonprofit is you just want to be receptive to the needs of your community,” Perdue said.
After figuring out how to provide phone support, the center’s team started working on moving the support groups online, and now offer about 20 groups regularly via video conference calls. They have had to provide technical support to clients, and even hired a full-time person to help.
Aside from that, the center has been sending daily emails since March with health and safety information, and activities and projects. The activities offered in the emails help keep patients mentally active during what can be a very isolating time. That, in turn, gives caregivers some time off, Roth said.
One of the big differences about the support center is that it’s not just a job for Perdue and Braverman, Roth said.
“With Molly and Melanie, it’s their lives, it’s family and that’s what makes it a really powerful organization,” Roth said.
The idea for the center was born when Perdue cared for her own mother who had Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our ambitious goal has always been to demonstrate that a small, community nonprofit that is dedicated to helping families deal with Alzheimer’s is doable and sustainable,” Perdue said. “What we do is not rocket science. It’s just being responsive.”
Roth said that in the past few years, she’s watched the services offered at the center grow tremendously, while still not charging caregivers or patients any money. Similar work offered by private companies costs people a “fortune,” she said.
This year’s fundraiser is even more critical than usual, Roth said.
With COVID-19, the nonprofit cannot rely on the typical in-person fundraising efforts like walks and banquets. The need is greater this year, too, because of the reliance on technology and technical support.
One of the unexpected positives of moving to an online platform, though, is that the center has been able to connect people all over the state to the support groups and services, when otherwise they would not have been connected, Perdue said. Because of their strong online presence, the center has increased their clientele by an average of 12 new people per week, she said.